Film Review: “Control”
Written by Bwog Staff
Sure it’s been out for a while, but Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic Control is still screening. Bwog correspondent Jamies Johns reviews the film and philosophizes on the nature of the rockumentary.
Most of us know the story by now: Ian Curtis, lead singer of post-punk outfit Joy Division, hung himself at the age of 23, leaving behind a wife, a young daughter and a handful of impeccable recordings. Curtis’ mystique and tragic death have almost begun to overshadow the music of his band and Control, a film about Curtis made by famed video director Anton Corbijn, will probably only serve to further the cult of Ian Curtis.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, because Corbijn’s portrait of Curtis is the only one I have seen that looks fairly at Curtis’ life with a true appreciation for him and the music he produced without reverting to idol worship. The film is one of the best rock bios I have seen; it is not only beautiful, thanks to Corbijn’s use of black and white photography, but it also feels, for lack of a better word, real. Although Curtis would later become an icon, for most of his life he was an average guy. The characters in Control are not distant figures that lived in the 1970s and with whom we can feel no connection. Instead, the deft performances by Sam Riley as Curtis and Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis, his wife, make Control emotionally devastating. We feel the tender moments between Curtis and his wife and his mistress, Annik Honore, and we also equally feel the suffocation Curtis felt towards the end of his life.
Corbijn reminds us throughout the film of two things: first, how young Curtis was when he became the music press’ new savior in 1979 and second, how much Curtis’ life was affected by his surroundings. Curtis’ home city of Manchester was, in the 1970s, a place where tranquilizers were frequently used by average citizens to make life a little bit easier. In late ‘70s Manchester, all you had to look forward to after high school was getting married and finding a low-end white collar job. Married at 18 and a father only a few years later, we see how Curtis fell into the traps of traditional life. Couple this with guilt about his infidelity, an increasingly severe case of epilepsy, and his position as the new “it” boy of British Music, and it’s easy to see that everything became too much for Ian Curtis. Curtis wasn’t perfect and Corbijn does a great job of showing how impetuous and selfish Curtis was, especially towards his wife.
While watching Control, it’s easy to see that Corbijn is, more than anything else, a fan of Joy Division’s music. The performance scenes in Control are undeniably good. I will be the first to admit that I freaked out when I heard how good the opening lines of “Disorder” looked and sounded in one scene. Sam Riley and the actors who play the other members of Joy Division perfectly capture their characters onstage personas. Unlike 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, Corbijn does not focus on the incredible Manchester music scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s that existed around Joy Division besides a side reference to Mark E. Smith of The Fall (“At least you’re not the singer of the Fall,” Joy Division’s manager says to Curtis after an epileptic fit) and a brief appearance by what is supposed to Alan Hempsall, the lead singer of the oft-overlooked Manchester band Crispy Ambulance.
Although some will fault Control for this, I felt that in the end the film excels in what it sets out to do: document Curtis’ life.
Control is still screening at CC Village East Cinemas on 181 2nd Avenue, (212) 777-3456 x 922.